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Gary Yeh on ArtDrunk and Why You Should Always "Trust your gut"

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Gary Yeh on ArtDrunk and Why You Should Always "Trust your gut"
Image courtesy of Gary Yeh

Described as a new art media company, ArtDrunk seeks to create content that breaks down barriers to learn about and appreciate art. Founder Gary Yeh fell in love with art in his junior year at Duke University and has since built Instagram account @artdrunk up to its current following of over 55,000 users, and in extension, the company it is now. Perhaps the best gift that his page gives is one of insight – Yeh’s posts make art that might come across as intimidating easy to look at and appreciate, allowing us to view the work at hand from someone else’s perspective, from a different voice. His well-thought-out Instagram captions make us feel closer to art we might not have felt any previous attachments to, whilst ArtDrunk's main site provides easily digestible content such as "The Art Institute of Chicago in 30 Seconds". It doesn’t hurt that these images and films are shot beautifully either, just read the comments and you'll find that his followers say the same. Better yet, continue reading and see it for yourself. 

We caught up with Gary where he talks about what he’s learnt over his journey with ArtDrunk, the most important thing he’s learnt as a collector, and where he sees ArtDrunk in 10 years time:
 

First of all, congratulations on all the traction ArtDrunk has been receiving! Artnet News just listed ArtDrunk as one of the top 10 Instagram pages to follow this season. Could you tell us a bit about ArtDrunk and why you started it?

Thanks! It’s still a surprise to me that they picked me out of all the great art Instagram pages out there! ArtDrunk started purely on Instagram around the same time I started collecting art more seriously. One of the early pieces of collecting advice I received was to see as much art as I could possibly see – basically figure out my own tastes. Instagram became a way to document all the art that made an impression on me. In fact, I scroll back through my page now and it’s fascinating to see how my tastes have both changed and stayed the same. I continue to make sure that my Instagram is a reflection of my thoughts around what I’m seeing but I’ve also expanded ArtDrunk into a media company to bring that same experience to a wider audience beyond Instagram.
 

Over the course of starting and building ArtDrunk, what are some characteristics you’ve learnt about the art world that you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed?

Building ArtDrunk comes with the pressure of seeing more art than I normally would be seeing because I’m constantly running out of content. The good part is that I’ve probably been to over 50 art fairs since I started ArtDrunk and countless hundreds of exhibitions. From seeing so much art, I began noticing the same people everywhere I went. At Art Basel Miami, for example, the same collectors sit down at the same booths talking to the same gallerists while the same journalists roam the same convention centre halls talking to the same curators. I think you get the point! The art world is very small and I’m constantly surprised by how few degrees of separation exist to knowing the entire art community.

 

You’ve done a great job at making the art on your page easy to digest; your captions exude a personal yet relatable air that takes away elitist presumptions about art in institutions. What motivated you to take this direction to art on social media?

Early on, I think it was a reaction to studying art history. There were countless nights reading textbooks and articles with art jargon that I barely understood, and I used social media as a way to escape from that world – writing about art on my own terms. Over time, as ArtDrunk grew a following, I realized people responded very well to my more casual approach to art, so I made it a core mission to make contemporary art more digestible through my writing.
 

You’re also an avid collector, having bought your first work when you were 17. Could you tell us a little more about your collection and what types of works interest you?

"I believe contemporary art is strongest when it reflects today’s society even before the rest of us can really process and comprehend society as we live it. "

I seek work that not only has strong aesthetic appeal but also speaks to a collective state of mind. I believe contemporary art is strongest when it reflects today’s society even before the rest of us can really process and comprehend society as we live it. I initially focused on Post-Internet art because of that intersection – it was art that reflected how I grew up, a world in which the internet always existed, and had the tangible qualities of paint and texture that drew me to art in the first place. When I branched out to more representational work, like a print of potted plants, I think it appealed to the millennial in me of having succulents all over an apartment. But for me, instead of real plants, I hung art. Minimalist works have also appealed to me a lot because of seeking art as a means of meditation. It seems to be trending more so now, possibly as artists use it as a way to escape the volatile political climate.  

Are there any works in your collection that you find yourself more attached to than others?

A few years ago, I interned at my university’s art museum. As I went up to the offices, the elevator doors always opened up to a Robert Motherwell print. My first impression was wondering why they would hang a print when they had incredible paintings in storage. Over time, however, I grew to love the work – the constant exposure led me to discover different parts that I appreciated and the black and white piece became a friendly face that said hello every morning. The works in my collection that I find myself most attached to are also those that I come across most often. Right now, I have a Jonas Wood print hanging between two windows in my bedroom. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but I actually love it more and more because it is literally the first thing I see in the morning when I look towards the window, eyes squinting with the sun blazing in. It’s another topic for discussion, but I would say that there’s a lot of value in rehanging artwork in your home for that reason – to be able to develop connections with your collection in new ways.  

 

Tell us a little about how you collect - do you frequent galleries or fairs, maybe even suss out artists on social media?

I gain a surprising amount of insight into new artists via Instagram. Whether a collector I follow posts an artwork they recently bought or something is newly on view at one of my favourite galleries, there’s a constant flow of information. I’ve also developed most of my relationships with artists through Instagram – the simple DM can work magic in getting to know an artist across the country or even across the world. Nothing replaces seeing art in person, though, so I still try to make it to all the major art fairs in America, all the latest shows in New York, and as many studios I can visit. All of these ways of engaging with art are part of the journey that makes art collecting so fun – each new piece is a unique story of how it was acquired.
 

What is the most important lesson that you’ve learnt as a collector?

Trust your gut. The most I ever spent on a work also happens to be the piece I enjoy the least. My eagerness to develop a relationship with a gallerist at the time overpowered any collecting wisdom and even my own taste when I had hesitations from the start. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I even asked to immediately return the piece when I received it! My request was declined and the piece still hangs in my room as a constant reminder of needing to follow your heart when buying art. You have to go in with a strong feeling that you will be happy living with the work 10 years from now.

A friend recently reinforced this idea. While he is absolutely not a fan of Jennifer Guidi’s paintings and believes they are overpriced, he also knows I’m dying to have one from the numerous ways I drool over her work and won’t stop talking about it. Especially this one piece in her studio… but that’s a story for another day. To my surprise, he said to me, “If you have such a strong connection to her work and know that you love it and will continue to love it, you should buy it.” His advice seems pretty simple, but loving an artwork should also be simple – not complicated by thinking about its market potential or whether your friends will think you’re crazy for spending money on a notecard-sized painting. Trust your gut.

Could you tell us about an artwork or series you find yourself constantly drawn to?

I’m biased but absolutely obsessed with Jonathan Monk’s restaurant drawings. They’re either drawings or watercolours of famous artworks on the receipts that Monk collects from dining out. The best part is that the price of the work is the same price as his meal! If his Starbucks latte cost 4 euro, then he sells the drawing for 4 euro (plus the cost of shipping). He’s an incredible conceptual artist and found a unique way to play the art market. Most of the works are posted on his Instagram (@monkpictures), and if you’re the first to comment, you get to buy the piece. I’m biased because I have about 15 of these… While it might be impressive, it also suggests that I spend way too much time on Instagram to catch them. Worth it.

 

Name three artists that have caught your attention recently

Paul Mpagi Sepuya. Lazaros. Toyin Ojih Odutola.

 

Where do you see ArtDrunk in 10 years time?

I see ArtDrunk being a recognized voice in the arts. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe social media in the art world can eventually have the level of influence on art history as does an acclaimed exhibition or a positive review by a famous critic. If a New York Times art review can reach tens of thousands of people and move the needle on an artist’s career, so too should a video on the artist viewed by a million people on YouTube. I also believe there is a gap in how art is presented to and perceived by millennials. Bluntly speaking, art is boring to younger generations. I envision ArtDrunk addressing that challenge and being the go-to source for learning about contemporary art. The same way Vogue is synonymous with fashion, I want ArtDrunk to be synonymous with art.


To find out more about ArtDrunk, click here.
To check out ArtDrunk's Instagram page, click here



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